518 artists aren’t letting COVID-19 push them down
Sirsy, a duo comprised of Melanie Krahmer and Richard Libutti, travel all over the country. Sirsy is their full-time income; in other words, Krahmer and Libutti make a living from traveling to shows and making music. More times than not, you’ll see the words, “free show, family friendly,” on a post about their next gig. The married couple is now home, uncertain about what’s next.
“We know we aren’t the only ones going through this right now,” Krahmer said. “But it’s hard. Our entire career is encouraging people to gather in crowds and relax. We make a living from groups of people coming to hear us play. All of that stopped. Abruptly.”
Like many other groups, Sirsy is resorting to online shows. The group isn’t foreign to turning on Facebook Live or a camera to play a show; however, Libutti and Krahmer normally charge a “ticket fee” to see the show. In light of the circumstances, Sirsy is going to play shows online for free, using YouTube as the medium.
“We will encourage people to tip, although we definitely do not expect it,” Libutti said, noting they are aware of the financial strain many people are facing.
As we chatted on the phone, Krahmer said they just finished soundcheck. The full, rocked-out Sirsy experience is coming to your living room and you don’t even have to change. The sets will be accompanied by a “tricked-out light show” and hopefully, themes will ensue. Libutti mentioned Star Wars, but the duo is looking for feedback.
“I imagine we will get crazier the longer we are hunkering down,” Krahmer said. “Our neighbors pretty much know what to expect with us, so seeing these lights coming from our basement isn’t going to shock anyone.” A laugh is shared.
COVID-19 takes on a different kind of risk for Krahmer. She’s now fought breast cancer twice; her most recent bout, in 2017, has gone into remission. However, Krahmer gets a chemo shot once a month. Even though she’s considered “cancer free,” she’s at risk because she’s still considered to be in active treatment.
“I’m getting thrown back in these emotions from a few years ago,” she explained. “When I was diagnosed last time, we were getting ready to leave for a three-month tour out west. We were forced to put it off once we knew I had to go into treatment.
“Now, we were supposed to leave for the same type of tour on March 24,” she continued. “While this isn’t the same, I’m having flashbacks of these emotions. I’m considered susceptible to this and I tend to catch things, so I’m scared. It’s a nervewracking time.”
Despite the challenge, Libutti said he and Krahmer know nothing else but making music. There’s no other option.
Wild Adriatic is also trying to make some lemonade. The trio, who recruit “a rotating cast of instrumentalists while on tour,” have become a mainstay in the 518 scene. Last summer’s rendition of “We’re An American Band,” a cover of the hit song by Grand Funk Railroad, had the Alive at 5 crowd singing as loud as singer Travis Gray.
Mateo Vosganian is Wild Adriatic’s drummer. During our brief phone call, his words hung heavy. The band with an impressive roster of festivals and outdoor shows has had its foreseeable future canceled in a matter of hours.
“We’ve had a really bad year so far revenue wise,” Vosganian explained. “If this keeps going, we might have to reconsider pursuing music as a career.”
Vosganian paused. The weight of the words sunk in. Last summer, you couldn’t have imagined that was in the future.
“I don’t think any of us want to break up,” Vosganian continued. “We still want to play. It just means we might have to look at how we continue without so much financial support.”
Like Sirsy, Wild Adriatic is going virtual. If you check its Facebook page, videos are popping up in collaboration with Mirth Films. Mirth and Wild Adriatic are teaming up to provide virtual concerts. Like Sirsy, the shows will be free, but the trio will encourage viewers to tip. Vosganian, like Krahmer and Libutti, stressed the band does not expect anything.
“We make our money from the shows where anywhere from 500 to 1,000 people attend,” Vosganian said. “Many of those shows are put on by municipalities or festivals. But, festivals are canceled and municipalities might not have the money to put on shows like these once this passes.”
He’s right; as workers are being furloughed or laid off, businesses are closing either temporarily or for good. Once we come out of COVID-19, the financial ramifications might span longer than the actual crisis.
Vosganian added the money-maker shows are so few and far between, the band relies on smaller shows, with crowds numbering 200ish, to keep afloat. Those are on hold. Another blow hit the group last Wednesday; bassist Rich Derbyshire had caught a cold and decided to quarantine after speaking with his doctor. Wild Adriatic and Mirth were scheduled to have a full-band live-streamed show. Erring on the side of caution, the band aired the supporting set it played for Twiddle last month at the Palace Theatre.
While the downtime is killing a lot of revenue, it isn’t stopping the music. The trio is working on a new album and keeping it eyes to the grindstone.
“We need the distraction that music provides,” Vosganian concluded. “I think we all do.”